My Experience With The Older Guy I Worked WithThe Shoe Guy
Have you ever found yourself falling in love with someone completely forbidden to you- either due to society norms, lifelong principles, or both? Did you ever feel as though you were someone's guardian angel, their Florence Nightingale? For just over a year I worked at one particular store (it being soap opera worthy all on its own), and ran into both these situations at once; but it ended up teaching me a very valuable, universally applicable concept. In my experience with relationships, none have been anywhere near as memorable, enlightening, or bittersweet as my time with the shoe guy. Not in any stretch of the imagination would I have ever thought I would fall for a man like him; nor would I have guessed how far I was willing to go for such a person.
The nearly middle aged man was a couple inches shy of six feet- he had a full head of short, brown hair, the body of a slightly worn runner, and the appearance of an experienced shoe salesman. However, it was his crystal blue eyes that first caught my attention. They seemed to have so much depth to them, and yet, they were unreadable. I still remember that after our gazes first met, we each did a double take. It wasn't a particularly memorable or special experience; yet, I remember it still, considering it was my first time in that fateful store.
One of my best friends, Zuzanna, was touring me through her workplace one summer day; she was trying to sell me the idea that I wanted to work at this big-time chain department store with her. She introduced me to the world of retail and explained how the store was run. I first observed that none of the associates seemed particularly concerned with their work: they either pretended to be busy, gossiped with one another, or stood there looking glazed over. Their ex
"Yeah, that's Sean, he's pretty much the shoe guy. He's really weird, but funny, and really nice, so I don't know why he's never been married. Oh, don't tell him what we did today, or he will never let me live it down. It's so like him to tease about every little thing." She noted with a laugh; and after finishing with his last demanding customer, he crossed the department of strange and colorful shoes to greet us. Sean and I were shortly introduced, and the three of us briefly conversed. His sense of humor became all too clear not too far along in our small talk. He sure had a talent of lightening the mood. After he questioned us about what we had done that day, I decided to make the dialog a little more interesting, despite Zuzanna's warnings.
"Well, we went swimming earlier, but before we came here to shop, we decided to do something spontaneous and visit the cemetery." I replied with a smile. A look of instant amusement crossed his face, and my friend simply burst out laughing at the anticipation of his reply.
"We are so random." She said through her laughter.
"I might be wrong about your taste in guys- but from what I could tell, I thought that being able to breathe would be a must." He smirked at her.
"Oh my gosh, Sean, only you would think of that. It's not like I thought the cemetery was a place to find dates." Zuzanna shook her head and laughed again. Our discussion ended a few minutes later, just in time to finish the tour. The shoe guy was now a person of interest in my book, and we would meet again. Soon after I submitted an application, I was accepted and employed. My good friend and I never got to work together, though, she moved to Oregon soon after. We definitely kept in contact- she would get to hear all about my developments.
The home department was just plain boring. There was no one ever to talk to, and rarely even customers. After re-stocking all the towels, sheets, pillows, and mattress pads, I would resort to wandering around in other departments. Of course, I was always on the lookout for supervisors, especially the pint-sized Mary. She was the hardest to avoid, because you could never spot her head bobbing up from behind the clothes racks; her shortness was a very good advantage for a retail supervisor. Whenever she would catch me out of my department, she would send me back to home, and maybe threaten to send me to lingerie for good measure(and that was a frightening thought.) According to Sean, she was like Darth Vader; and the store manager was the Emperor. Of course I couldn't blame him- out of all of the dozens of people, he got yelled at more than anyone, and he was their best worker. Shoes wouldn't even have survived if it weren't for his long, hard hours he put in. Most of the time, I successfully could make my way over to his department though, try to cheer him up, and we would chat while we worked.
The realization soon hit me that I found the older man undeniably attractive, and it disturbed me greatly. Day after day I would work with him and fall in ever deeper. Even my fellow co-workers commented pretty soon after I started working there that I must like him; and so the rumors began filling the grapevine. Kristina, one of the associates in children's told me on one occasion,
"I think you guys would make a cute couple, you have good chemistry. His age doesn't make it unworkable, age doesn't matter." But I didn't know what to think. Did age really matter, and if so, by how much? He didn't seem that old at all, I would never have guessed he was over thirty. I knew very well that there were too many variables for it to even begin to work; but yet, I couldn't stop myself from flirting with him. The more time went by, the more I realized his characteristics matched my dream man: intelligence, humor, charm (even at his age he wasn't half bad,) and amazingly similar interests. It didn't hurt that he was so generous, passive, and good with kids. Given all this, I was still driven mad by my unnatural attraction to a man twice my age. His gentlemanly behavior was something of a rarity; something I had never found in anyone else. For instance: he always stayed after his shift to make sure the person taking over in shoes was doing okay; and at closing time he would never leave until he had helped everyone else close their registers. Due to Sean's natural intelligence, it was a guarantee that he wasn't oblivious to my attraction . He had definitely picked up on my vibes. In the September of the year I worked there, I asked him how long he'd known. He just gave me one of his wry smiles and retorted with obvious understatement in his tone,
"Oh, a while."
"I'm bored, entertain me." I once joked with him while in the back room.
"Well, there's always the bras- they're pretty entertaining. You could go try them on if you want, don't mind me," Sean joked back with his same infamous smile, but he always had to make sure I knew he was kidding. More and more comments like this were coming from him, and it wasn't long before I sensed Sean's flirtatious behavior with me. He would mention that I had a great personality, or that I was irresistibly attractive; and how he thought that guys must be in line to date me. But of course, this was after the span of time that he and I had started to become best friends. We would often confide in each other, and we could make a conversation out of anything. With this friendship I finally found the reality behind his hardworking facade: he wasn't much of a happy person, and seemed to suffer from depression. I made it my goal then and there that I had to help him become happy again.
By now it had been six months since I had the pleasure of knowing the shoe guy, and we had kept a good friendship going pretty strong all that time. He sometimes would give me rides home in his hot, red Chevy Cavalier, and we even began to text regularly. One cold, windy day in January; I accompanied Sean on his lunch break into the mall, all the while being more flirtatious than usual. We spent some time together, then returned to the store shortly after. Sean wanted me to wait for him, because he always hugged me before I left- the hugs had become something of a daily routine. I came with him to the shoe stockroom for a couple minutes, and decided I had to get going; but not before I tried playing one more card, just for kicks.
"You know, Sean: I never did get my kiss," I teased as I watched him organizing shoe boxes. He promptly looked up from his work, giving me an ex
"What, like a friend kiss?" He prodded carefully, but I didn't know how to respond. He made his way toward me, and gave me a hug. I honestly didn't think he would do it- but he did, he gave me a full on kiss. I was too surprised to really kiss him back, and he was very out of practice. He pulled away, but then said,
"Wait, let me try that again." I was still too stunned to really do much back, but he hadn't improved much from the first kiss anyway. I felt dazed; the fact that it wasn't good hadn't taken away from the fact that he had kissed me, and I knew it made him happy too. Perhaps I was starting to make a difference; or maybe I should have looked before I leaped.
It wasn't long before that forbidden stockroom kiss triggered chain reactions that made our workplace a den of confusion; well, at least more so than usual. Sean and I continued to be good friends; but we were both very confused. He said things to the effect that he wasn't looking for a girlfriend right then (which I knew for a fact wasn't true); he was too old for me, and that I should date "young, hot guys." There was a time when I showed everyone a blatantly flirtatious text to get opinions on what his deal was, and I unwittingly worsened the situation. The associates and supervisors were all buzzing about what was going on between us; it was that same topic that had me agonizing daily.
Covering the breaks for other departments (which was always routine for anyone in the home department) had now turned into "twenty questions." I was constantly hounded by my associates and supervisors, and I knew that to some extent, Sean was as well. Of course when I would come to him about it, he would just crack a joke to further confuse me.
"Have you heard the rumors?" I asked him one day.
"Which ones? This place is full of 'em"
"The ones about us being together...?" I prodded, using hand gestures to illustrate my meaning.
"Like boyfriend/girlfriend..?" He guessed, then noticing me nod, he kind of chuckled, jokingly adding, "You should've just told them we were married." Sadly, all I could do was smile and roll my eyes. He and I continued to hang out at times, he even cheered me up by taking me to get a smoothie after my car accident in February. This didn't really alleviate the confusion, especially considering that he called it a "Costco date."
The people of the store seemed to have gotten some strange notion that everything was simply their business. Even if we had been dating, it wasn't something new in the store; there were probably four other relationships/dramas going on at the same time. Not to mention that we were consensual if we dated, since I was legally considered an adult. However, a few of the co-workers had become my good friends in the time I had worked there; and in my confusion I turned to them.
My good friend, Ben, who worked in the jewelry department at the time, always had the inside scoop. He and I would discuss Sean frequently (he was just an intriguing character to the two of us), going over all the possible things that could be going on. I would tell him about how Sean and I were constantly texting- how his texts would start being flirtatious, and then he would apologize. Ben said that whether Sean knew it or not; I was always riding a tormenting rollercoaster of emotions with him, and I shouldn't be forced to keep going through with it just because I felt that Sean needed a positive influence in his life. It was at this time that I realized I truly loved the shoe guy; I would do anything to make him happy, even at my own expense. But I also knew that love was a two-way thing: I had to know how much I meant to him, too. I couldn't keep putting myself through it all.
Determined to discover the truth about his feelings and how he really felt about our friendship; I decided I'd corner him at work one day. Sean felt he had no other alternative- he couldn't tell me how it was, or why, it was simply the end of our friendship. If that wasn't enough, he harped on me for another couple minutes before I simply turned around and left the store. If only he had told me what was going on, I would have understood; but instead I was left in a painful place for a very long time.
For two months, neither of us spoke to one another at work. Occasionally, we would pass each other, but luckily we didn't have too many similar shifts. Not many words were exchanged between us during this time; but all the passing glances and wounded ex
"Hey, Sean, just so we're good; I'm sorry about whatever happened in the past." I said to the shoe guy one particularly hot day in July.
"I'm sorry, too." He simply returned. What was most surprising about our renewed friendship was at how strong it returned; the man and I had a bond that just could not be broken as long as we were in contact with each other, not even his age could separate us. Even to this day, Ben comments that out of every relationship he's ever seen; the one I had with Sean was the most strangely enduring.
All through July we continued to develop our stronger feelings again- and this time he didn't seem to be shying away from it at all. By the end of the month, my old friend, Zuzanna, had paid me a phone call.
"Ask her if she found her biker boyfriend yet." Sean joked as he was taking me home one night. I asked if I could call her back, as I was just getting back from hanging out with him. When I got home, I told her about my evening.
"Sean and I went to Iceberg...but you'll never guess where we went after that- to the cemetery!" She could only laugh at the irony of the situation.
Sean and I became near inseparable; and by the beginning of August we had been lifted from our previous confusion. I told him my side of the story, and he told me his. Apparently the part of the story I hadn't heard, was that he had been close to quitting. The threats the manager had been giving him about "sexual harassment" was partly my fault for spreading his texts around, he had felt betrayed. He had also overheard them talking about firing me if the two of us continued on the same path, so that further confused him as to what to do about our relationship. It was after all that had cleared up that he admitted that our first kiss did mean something to him; and so did I.
For our first real date, the two of us saw "Wall-E." The whole time, Sean compared our relationship to Wall-E and Eva's, and the movie ended for us in gentle kisses. It was on this date that we first held hands, had Nielsen's Frozen Custard, and spent some quality time at his house. Of course he always had to be the gentleman: holding doors open for me, insisting on paying for everything, and always asking first what I wanted to do. It didn't take me long to discover what a true romantic he was; and the more we did together, the more we found we had in common. One of our favorite spots soon became the duck pond in Green Valley, and he would frequently make quacking noises at the little duckies. It only took a couple weeks for me to admit over all this time that I had loved him, and his response was purely mutual. The two of us could find entertainment in anything; the time I spent with him was the greatest time I had in my life. In my mind, reflecting over our times shared together; Sean had proved to me that age was only as much of a barrier as people make it. True, some things are a definite barrier, but it was all subjective. I also knew that society would have different opinions on our relationship, especially my parents.
In order for our relationship be given a chance without interference, I kept my relationship from my parents for as long as I could. Shortly before my parents made the discovery, Sean and I had been getting pretty serious. The two of us had been discussing future temple marriage plans, and he had told me the dream he had had about our future daughter. When my parents found out; it was the end. They instantly had me bring him over to meet him, and ignoring whatever else he could say for himself, they had already made the assessment that his age made it an impossibility. Sean, not knowing what else to do, called me shortly after and told me it had to end. I accused him of being willing to lose me only due to my parents, but his response was:
"You are right, it is going to be my loss. You are a truly special person. This is not easy for me, really it isn't. Things were made very clear to me that this has to end, sorry. I don't want to see you go, you have been a great and special friend, you have touched my life. It is probably for the best, I have caused you enough pain. I will always have a love for you. You are going to have a great life, and the guy you choose to be with in the future is very lucky." Of course I could only forgive him, and agree with him. If it was up to me, I would keep trying to work it out despite my parents' interference; but I knew it wouldn't be a good deal for him, so I let it go.
The two of us continued to be best friends, and go on as if nothing had happened. We kept texting at a constant rate, and I realized there was a very fine line between best friends and lovers (the physical contact being the main thing). In one of his texts he even mentioned,
"You will always be a close friend of mine, I hope this last 30 or 40 years at least. I just want you to be happy." But even our friendship was something my parents couldn't let happen. My mother blocked him on my phone, and even made a scene in the Verizon store when I tried to get my own phone to pay for. If that wasn't enough, she had to send Sean a rude text saying that he ought to be ashamed of himself, and he should have no contact with me. Of course, he being a gentleman, could only respond that he was sorry and he would go by her wishes.
Nothing I could do or say could change his mind; he has insisted on going by the rules. Our friendship has survived everything- I still refuse to let it die now. He has no choice in the matter that I continue to visit him once a week at the store I once worked at, and still insists on giving me a hug after he sees me each time. I feel that I can't abandon him now, he needs some positive re-enforcement. My experience with the shoe guy has also taught me that true love goes hand in hand with true friendship. With some people that we come across in our journeys, there are just some that leave us touched permanently. I will always be his best friend and guardian angel. We would lose our humanity if we always let conformity rule who we decide is deserving of our love. "I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."